Music

The 10 Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2018

Photo: real-napster / Courtesy of Pixabay / CC0 Creative Commons

From Kanye tweets to Drake and Pusha T diss tracks to literary masterpiece "This Is America", 2018 was quite the year for rap. But if we had to boil it all down to just 10 albums, we think these are the cuts that truly rose above and summed up 2018 the best.

10. Migos – Culture II (Capitol/Motown/Quality Control)

In 2018, Migos didn't risk overexposure, they indulged in it. They were everywhere, as a group and solo acts. Their double-disc, ridiculously long Culture II may have been treated like chart-bait for our streaming era. But in reality, it felt more like a self-contained universe, with a degree of infinity to it, created by a group dead-set on world domination. Their strengths – swagger, interplay, humor – were all on display. And the length allowed for some pretty strange and indulgent twists and turns (like the song about turning emojis into gold chains), plus guest appearances by the biggest hip-hop artists of the moment (Drake, Post Malone, Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, Travis Scott and more). A celebration of Migos' regal status in the hip-hop world ("Crown the Kings", starts the second disc), Culture II is packed with instant-classic anthems and unique detours. - Dave Heaton

LISTEN: Spotify / YouTube | WATCH: "Narcos" / "Stir Fry" / "Too Playa" / "Walk It Talk It"

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9. Cardi B - Invasion of Privacy (Atlantic)

Though the album's lead single "Bodak Yellow" already won Cardi B unanimous acclaim in last year's year-end lists, Cardi B was able to carry the momentum into across the entirety of Invasion of Privacy, a masterwork of pop rap which oozes of self-confidence and awareness of exactly who she is trying to be as an artist, which is quite the feat for a debut full-length release. For those who thought Cardi peaked on "Bodak Yellow", here comes the Latin-flavored absolute jam "I Like It" topping the charts and making Cardi B the first female rapper in history to have two Billboard number ones. It was a milestone to be sure, but the rest of the record is just as consistent, from the vulnerable "Be Careful" to the carefree collaboration with Chance the Rapper "Best Life". Cardi B proved she's not just a meme on Invasion of Privacy, perhaps offering the biggest surprise on this list. - Chris Thiessen

LISTEN: Spotify / YouTube | WATCH: "Be Careful" / "Bodak Yellow" / "I Like It" / "Ring"

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8. Various Artists - Black Panther (OST) (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope)

A year removed from the impressive Pulitzer Prize-winning DAMN., Kendrick Lamar had a fairly quiet 2018. But his job as curator and contributor for Marvel's February smash Black Panther was enough to keep King Kendrick on top and spotlighted many of the best in the game. From the Kendrick/SZA smash "All the Stars" to Future's meme-worthy "slob on me knob" in "King's Dead", the soundtrack was perhaps one of the biggest culture impacters in music this year. Though decidedly a compilation of superstars as opposed to a cohesive album, the infusion of Ludwig Göransson's African-inspired movie score into tracks from Kendrick's opener "Black Panther" to the Weeknd's closer "Pray For Me" held the tone together. It's a Who's Who effort oozing fun from beginning to end and reminds us that there is room for creativity even in the pop-rap scene. - Chris Thiessen

LISTEN: Spotify / YouTube | WATCH: "All the Stars" / "Pray For Me"

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7. Jay Rock – Redemption (TDE/Interscope)

Even with the success this year of his Black Panther soundtrack track "King's Dead", with Kendrick Lamar and Future, Jay Rock remains an underrated figure in the TDE family. An underrated artist, period. Redemption may not have the level of overall focus or biographical interest of his second album, 2015's 90059, but it's just as stellar a platform for Jay Rock's ability to rhyme hard with a purpose.

He's less resting on his laurels than relaxing into his talent and accomplishments after two albums that screamed of hunger. Redemption's approach is more purposely universal, multipurpose, and everyday. It's strongest at a downtempo creep, but then there's the instant-classic "Wow Freestyle" with Lamar, the reappearance of "King's Dead", and the album-closer "WIN", the smartest dumb single of the year, which seems to contradict his strengths, and is all the better for it -- a triumphant anthem that shows him to be a hip-hop jack-of-all-trades. - Dave Heaton

LISTEN: Spotify / YouTube | WATCH: "OSOM" / "Shit Real" / "Tap Out" / "The Bloodiest" / "WIN"

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6. Trouble and Mike WiLL Made-It – Edgewood (Duct Tape/Ear Drummer/Interscope)

It's been seven years since the Atlanta rapper Trouble's first mixtape, but Edgewood is essentially his debut album proper. The name is significant – this is a vivid, dark snapshot of the Atlanta projects where Trouble hails from. He's a precise storyteller who pulls no punches, while focusing on themes more than details. It's all work, hustle, struggle. His style is rugged and rough, but also surprising – like the little sing-song litanies he likes to turn into choruses. There's more of a pop sense that at first seems. That balance of darkness and melody is also the combination producer Mike WiLL Made-It thrives off. Receiving co-billing, the rich atmosphere of the music is the perfect complement to Trouble's rhymes, and successful on its own (an instrumental version would be deep). – Dave Heaton

LISTEN: Spotify / YouTube | WATCH: Edgewood / "Real Is Rare" / "Selfish"

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